Posted on: October 29, 2014
Written by: Coalition for Compassionate Care of California
When I first met Ken it was with Blackie on his lap.
Blackie was a beautiful tuxedo cat with a feisty personality, and Ken, an older man battling cancer, shared with me that he considered this cat as his dearest family.
Ken explained that Blackie was very possessive. As a dog person, I was thoroughly surprised when Blackie protected Ken by responding to me with a growl that could rival the howls of my black lab and hybrid wolf.
After he was no longer responding to treatment Ken made the conscious decision to switch comfort care. He wished to die a natural death, and wanted to live out his last days by listening to Big Band music with Blackie, his constant companion, by his side.
As Ken’s cancer progressed he became bedbound. Blackie remained at his side keeping a vigil and a watchful eye on his beloved owner.
The last time I saw Ken was when he was entering his final stages of life. He was surrounded by photos of his deceased wife and the trophies and medals that recognized his community and military service.
As I checked in on Ken, Blackie was at the foot of his bed. He didn’t growl or scratch at me—he just purred gently, inching his way up to check on his friend who was soon to leave life as they had known it together.
They spent eleven years together.
According to his caregivers, Ken died peacefully and Blackie never left the bed until Ken took his last breath.
Several weeks after his death I received a call from the caregivers who shared with Ken his last few months. We were neighbors, and they asked if I wouldn’t mind if they came over to visit.
As I opened the door to greet them, to my surprise they held out a cat kennel and said that Ken had wanted me to have Blackie.
I was stunned.
How was I to handle a cat that had bitten and scratched at me? How would my dogs react?
I invited them inside and let Blackie out of his kennel. On his best behavior, Blackie went over to my dogs and sniffed them.
For the next seven years Blackie lived happily in my home, and even provided gentle comfort to my ailing father who also thought he wasn’t a cat person (Blackie proved him wrong).
It has been many years since Blackie passed and I believe he is with Ken in Heaven, where all is well and loved ones are joined together in bliss.
Catherine McGregor, RN, MSN, is a palliative care RN coordinator for the Sutter Health Palliative Care Program, and is a member of the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California.